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Monday, December 29, 2008

Too Much Drama

Hello, Wavers! How's everybody doing in the vast in-between of Christmas and New Years? It's like some kind of twilight. Speaking of which, the mini-W and I saw 30 DAYS OF NIGHT last evening and loved it. Wow, what great production values and really great, inventive set pieces. A little gory but it was quite compelling.

So as I prepare to launch my new website by this weekend (yeah, that deadline looks to be pushed, ain't that just like life?) I am going through the hundreds of sets of notes we have done over time looking for suitable samples of our work. And I have found the most interesting trend - too many dramas! I'm finding that newer writers tend to write dramas. Because, you know, I do keep track of where each writer is at on the curve so that when we work with that writer, we have that jumping off point. New writer = likelihood of having written drama QUITE HIGH. Which is interesting because further, I have also observed that these dramas get consistently low ratings on the grid and the notes tend to be that its "too self-referential." In other words, not universal, but rather too personally specific - missing a larger, relatable theme.

Drama as a genre coming from a spec writer trying to break in, is common and - not very marketable. Genre pieces tend to trend better on the market. I like dramas very much, personally, but in Hwood we tend to see them mainly written by heavy hitters and released in the winter. I know the first two scripts I wrote were both dramas before I discovered and set upon writing romcom which I did for several scripts before I discovered that my strength is in writing thrillers. It took me awhile to find my voice, my strength and my passion in terms of genre.

If you are writing a drama, you might check in and ask yourself if you are aware that as a genre, it is a weak sell. Also, is your drama self-referential - about that time your boyfriend broke your heart? Is this a mildly biographical drama, in other words? If so - beware. I'm just saying. Make sure you have the emotional distance and skillset to make the story universally resonant, not just a therapeutic way of working out your demons. Which can be fine - we're all working out our demons - but don't lose sight of audience appreciation. Is this story something MANY people can relate to? Or is this something that only YOU find satisfying? If so - how can you elevate the drama, conflict and theme to something more - well, again - universal?

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9 comments:

Luzid said...

Interesting. Lucky for me that I write wildly imaginative high-concept genre pieces that people find awesome (their words, not mine). Should help me stand out, I hope.

I'm just not interested in dramas, because in my mind there is no reason a high-concept genre piece can't also be dramatic (e.g., THE TRUMAN SHOW). Dramas without a killer idea? Kind of, well, boring.

Buck said...

Is it a fair aspiration to write indie dramas that get released via art house at any time of the year? Many of these get reviewed by popular publications and see some decent activity via Netflix/Blockbuster. Not that they make much money, if any...

Just_Hiltz said...

"Thirty Days of Night"... I really liked that movie. I even got my wife to go with me to see it and she is NOT a big fan of horror. But she pulled the old peeking-through-her-fingers routine and I thinks she "kindof" enjoyed it.Nice observation about drama. You are right that it is not the best genre to tackle first time out of the gate.I've been trying to write a comedy for years.Think 09 is the one to get 3 drafts of it out.

Julie Gray said...

@Buck - totally, if you have connections in that vein. I strongly (and counter-intuitively) believe you should write whatever story and whatever genre really, really turns you on - but at the same time, it's good to be aware of the market. If you write the next Ordinary People, I'll be your fan for life. (yes, I know that was an adaptation).

Earl Newton said...

Julie - I was referred to your site about five minutes ago. Currently fighting a stress headache from a Gordian knot of a character arc, and your site is making me feel better already.

Julie Gray said...

@Earl - well, Gordian Knot Headache Relief IS my middle name, you know. :) Welcome to the Rouge Wave!

Anonymous said...

Saw 30 Days of Night a couple of months ago. The title had intrigued me and I had expected something really bizarre. Turned out to be a bad horror movie, totally unremarkable.

screen scribe said...

As always, thank you for a very informative post, Julie. You're the best!

Christian M. Howell said...

That's funny as my first completed script was a drama. And a female driven one at that with no sex, smoking or drinking.
Wow, I must be crazy. Not really. I just wanted a small story about a large topic: sexual assault.

Anyway, that is an interesting statistic but I think it's logical.